Long Working Hours Responsible for 745,000 People a Year, Says the WHO

Stress-related deaths owing to long hours of work have surged by nearly 30% over the past two decades, a study jointly commissioned by the World Health Organization and the International Labour Organization shows.

The study – the first of its kind – is a global analysis of death and diseases related to long hours of work. It involved an analysis of 37 studies on ischemic heart disease, 22 studies on stroke, and the results of 2300 surveys collected in 154 countries from 1970 – 2018.

In 2016, an estimated 745,000 people died from stroke and ischemic heart disease because of working 55 hours a week or more, according to the report. It also shows that, between 2000 and 2016, there’s been a 42% increment in the number of deaths caused by heart diseases and 19% from stroke resulting from long hours of work between 2000 and 2016.

The study suggests that working 55 or more hours per week may increases the risk of stroke by up to 35% and death from ischemic heart diseases by up to 17%, compared to working 35-40 hours a week.

The WHO and ILO also reported that an estimated 448 million people were compelled to work more than 55 hours a week in 2016. “Work-related disease burdens” were found to be predominant in men, people living in the Western Pacific and South East Asia countries, including which includes China, South Korea, Australia, and Japan, according to the WHO and ILR.

Although the study didn’t cover the pandemic period, experts are worried that the growing exposure of workers to longer working hours may have amplified during the pandemic. The rapid adoption of work-from-home regimes has caused difficulties in tracking working hours. As such, long working hours may go underreported, imperceptibly undermining the productivity levels and overall wellbeing of workers.

“Teleworking has become the norm in many industries, often blurring the boundaries between home and work. In addition, many businesses have been forced to scale back or shut down operations to save money, and people who are still on the payroll end up working longer hours. No job is worth the risk of stroke or heart disease. Governments, employers and workers need to work together to agree on limits to protect the health of workers,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

As a solution, the WHO recommended social engineering policies that “introduce, implement and enforce laws, regulations and policies that ban mandatory overtime and ensure maximum limits on working time.” They also advised employers to implement shifts that spread the workload to keep individual working hours below 55 hours per week.

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